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Orlando service returns to CHO

Charlottesville families planning a trip to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and other Central Florida attractions won’t have to bother with layovers come May.

Nonstop flights to Orlando will be returning to the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, nearly a decade after low-cost carrier Allegiant Air pulled service in 2014.

Another low-cost carrier, Houston-based Avelo, announced on Tuesday that it will begin offering direct flights to Orlando International Airport priced below $80.

The news means travelers departing from CHO will be able to cut out layovers at Charlotte Douglas, Dulles, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta and LaGuardia airports.

“You’re not having to connect in one of the busy airports,” said Avelo spokeswoman Courtney Goff on Tuesday.

Avelo, whose name rhymes with “yellow” and means “hazelnut” in Esperanto, got its start as a charter carrier known as Casino Express Airlines and then Xtra Airways before rebranding nearly two years ago as Avelo Airlines, an “ultra-low-cost” carrier, Goff said.

The company doesn’t use most travel aggregators but instead primarily sells tickets from its website. There, tickets for its Newport News-to-Orlando service typically hover in the $49-69 range.

“We know that not everyone can afford to fly multiple times per year,” said Goff.

Goff says that Avelo will charge $49 for Charlottesville-Orlando tickets booked by Feb. 28.

The route will be served by a Boeing 737 that seats around 180 people, she said. The aircraft will be the largest plane providing CHO with regularly scheduled service, according to airport officials.

Regularly scheduled, however, does not mean daily. Service, which will begin on May 3, is planned as a round trip every Friday and Monday.

“You could leave on a Friday and come back Monday,” said Goff, “or leave on Monday and come back Friday.”

Such service is close but not quite what Buckingham County resident and CHO traveler Desiree Tymeson said she would need to visit her former home on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“I think it’d be great if you’re traveling to Orlando,” said Tymeson as she waited Tuesday morning at Gate 3 for a Delta flight to Atlanta and a connection to Sarasota.

Happier was fellow Delta passenger Andrew Chapman, who lives in Orlando but has been working since July as a travel nurse at the University of Virginia Medical Center. He said that between layovers and delays, his trips back home can consume an entire day.

“This is amazing,” Chapman said of the Avelo news. “This just made my day.”

The limited twice-weekly service was no worry for Chapman.

“I can work with that,” he said, smiling.

Avelo’s announcement comes nearly a decade after the last time a discount airline provided direct service between Charlottesville and Orlando. In early 2014, after fewer than 100 days of service, Allegiant ended its direct flights between Charlottesville and Orlando, citing a lack of market demand.

CHO’s Chief Operating Officer Jason Burch said that the airport is optimistic that Avelo’s service will last longer. Now that the pandemic is in its waning years, he said, travelers have become more eager to take destination vacations and are more protective of their time.

“The value of time is more critical than ever,” Burch told The Daily Progress in an email.

Goff cited another factor: Unlike Allegiant, which served Orlando Sanford International Airport outside Orlando city limits, Avelo will serve Orlando International, or MCO, which sits within the city and is the state’s most popular airport.

MCO also is slated to soon get one of America’s most ambitious rail connections, Brightline, which currently runs 18 daily round trips along Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Opened in 2018 as America’s first new privately owned passenger railroad in a century, Brightline plans to connect to MCO by the end of June, linking the Central Florida airport to West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, according to statements from Brightline officials.

Whatever becomes of Avelo at CHO, Goff said that the other carriers will take notice.

“Because we have such low fares, it’s going to create some demand and competition in the market,” said Goff, “so you might see other carriers lowering their fares.”


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